Alabama Football: 5 Former Tide Players Have Shot at NFL Rookie of the Year
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Former Alabama Crimson Tide players stormed the the 2012 NFL draft and the free agency as well, but how long will it take for them to become productive? For five players the answer will be "immediately."
Like college football, the only thing that matters in the NFL is "The Big One," the championship. For players and fans of the NFL, it's the Lombardi or bust. As a result, individual performances don't matter much if your team doesn't win the Super Bowl.
For most Alabama fans, however, it matters a great deal. Fans of the Crimson Tide typically don't have unbreakable loyalties to NFL teams as they just want to see former 'Bama boys do well at the next level, regardless of what team they play for.
As for those individual performances, five former Crimson Tide players have a good shot at making waves and becoming either offensive or defensive rookies of the year.
Trent Richardson and Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (with Dont'a Hightower photo-bombing in the background).
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Cleveland Browns, Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate
Trent Richardson is the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson—may even be better—and everyone knows it.
On top of that, the Cleveland Browns are stuck between a rock and a hard place with their quarterback situation.
Colt McCoy, the former Texas quarterback that lost to the Tide in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game (as he sat on the bench with an "injury"), has been a decent performer for the Browns for two years now.
However, decent isn't good enough to win a division that has perennial Super Bowl contenders in the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. To top it off, the Browns have to play the Cincinnati Bengals, who have two amazing, young second-year players in A.J. Green and Andy Dalton (who were both Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates in 2011), as well as former Tide player Dre Kirkpatrick at cornerback.
That's why the Browns drafted 28-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State.
McCoy has struggled a bit in the NFL, and Weeden, despite his age, is still a rookie and is unfamiliar with the speed of the NFL defenses that are infinitely greater than the porous Big 12 defenses.
As a result, the Browns will rely heavily on a strong running game, just like they did in 2010 when Peyton Hillis ran wild.
These reasons give him a good shot at being the Offensive Rookie of the Year, but as a 'Bama fan, I won't hold my breath. As good as Richardson is, he's likely to be overshadowed by two other offensive rookies.
Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, both incoming rookies who will start from Game 1, are supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread and will likely end up being better than cinnamon toast with butter and sugar.
If Richardson can run for some crazy yards (such as 1,600-plus) the award is all his. It all depends on how much faith the coaching staff has in their quarterbacks, which is likely little.
Expect Richardson to tote the rock more than any running back in the NFL in 2012 and take home the honors.
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Cincinnati Bengals, Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate
The defensive rookie of the year position has been dominated for over 10 years by players that have tangible stats; sacks and tackles go a long way when selecting the DROTY.
The last time a cornerback was selected as the Defensive Rookie of the Year was in 1998 when Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson earned the honors.
That being said, the odds are against Dre Kirkpatrick of winning the esteemed honor.
Further stacking the odds against him is the fact that he's in a powerful division. He must defend against quarterbacks like Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger as well as upcoming gunslinger Andy Dalton.
On the other hand, Kirkpatrick is on a great team that's quickly on the rise. The Bengals' offensive productive will scaling exponentially, and opposing teams will often feel pressured.
Even better is the Bengals' pass defense which ranked ninth last year, allowing only 211.6 passing yards per game. You can bet opposing quarterbacks will try to pick on the new guy, Kirkpatrick, and he will likely make them pay.
By the time the other teams figure out that Kirkpatrick is a dangerous rookie, he will have racked up enough tackles and interceptions to make him a solid candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
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New England Patriots, Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate
I said it once before, but Dont'a Hightower landed in the best spot compared to the rest of his former teammates.
The New England Patriots have been legitimate Super Bowl contenders ever since Tom Brady stepped on the field, but Brady and the offense is about all the Pats have.
New England's defense ranked 31st last year allowing 411.1 yards per game. Their defense was overall bad, yet scrappy when it counted, as they did well against the Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow. They held the current Super Bowl Champs, the New York Giants, to only 21 points in the title game.
There are a lot of holes to fill in New England's defensive scheme, and Hightower can fill most of them with just one roster spot.
Hightower will start from day one and is going to make a big impact. With the defensive issues being solved and the Patriot's winning games, few will be able to argue against Hightower's impact, regardless of the numbers he puts up (which are sure to be impressive).
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate
Mark Barron landed on—let's be honest—a pretty crappy team. That's often the downside of being a high first-round draft pick (7th overall).
The Buc's ranked 29th last year in yards per game, giving up an average 394.4 and had no offense to make up for the defensive slack.
On the flip side, Barron is already adored by Tampa Bay fans, as he is certain to turn the defense around.
Not only does he play like a rabid beast, but he's sharp as a tack with unrivaled instincts. As icing on the cake for the Buc's, Barron is a vocal leader who, under the tutelage of Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, learned how to recognize offensive plays and make adjustments, making sure everyone is in the right place.
If he keeps up his reputation as a fearsome safety in the NFL against these guys, he could be a shoo-in for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Interestingly, Barron will have to defend against Julio Jones when the Bucs face the Atlanta Falcons. 'Bama fans, who have always wondered what happened between Jones and Barron during those closed Alabama practices, will get to see the result when these two teams play.
Baltimore Ravens, Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate
Can you say "biggest steal of the draft"? After Courtney Upshaw was taken in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft (when everyone, including Upshaw himself, expected him to be taken in the first round), that's likely what everyone will have to admit when Upshaw win's Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
He has a better chance than any other player mentioned—and for some very good reasons.
First and foremost, Upshaw was expected to play strong-side linebacker for the Ravens, and Terrell Suggs would be rushing the passer from the blindside.
Fate had a different plan, and Suggs tore his Achilles tendon. You're up, Mr. Upshaw.
Unless Suggs can make a miraculous recovery and be 100 percent by the time fall arrives (which is highly unlikely), Upshaw will be the primary pass-rusher for Baltimore.
But wait, it gets better.
The Ravens run a 3-4 base defense—the same one Alabama runs. It will be a seamless transition for Upshaw.
OK, so it gets a lot better.
Upshaw's teammate at middle linebacker is the best the NFL has to offer—Ray Lewis. The threat that Lewis poses will attract a lot of attention and let Upshaw infiltrate the opposing offensive line largely ignored and make plays.
Is that as good as it gets for Upshaw? Not quite.
The Ravens also have a starting nose tackle who could quite possibly make the Pro Bowl in the near future. He's a familiar, little guy to Tide fans by the name of Terrence Cody. Since his time with the Tide, Cody gained a lot of muscle while trimming his weight down to 349 lbs.
The Baltimore Ravens are defensive monsters who are suddenly lacking a supreme pass-rusher. When—not if—Upshaw fills that role with utmost ferocity, it will be hard to argue that he's not the best defensive rookie in the NFL.